By nature of my job, I’ve had the opportunity to observe key trends within the legal field for more than a decade, studying their evolution and transformative impact on the practice of law.
Evolving tech advancements and more business-focused strategies have given rise to legal entrepreneurship, creating enterprises that shape practices in novel ways. Innovators are developing new options for access to legal services, creating flexible alternatives to traditional management models.
Legal Entrepreneurs – More Than Just Innovators
The introduction of unique ventures in the legal field is often referred to as “new law.” Analyst, forecaster and lawyer Jordan Furlong defines the term as “any model, process, or tool that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed.” Entrepreneurship is more than just innovation – it’s the creation of products or services within a business model that embraces the inherent financial risks of success – or failure – of the enterprise.
Intersection of Technology and Business Savvy
Technology, in large part, is spurring legal entrepreneurship, offering efficient and cost-effective approaches to deliver legal services, process and analyze growing volumes of information and communicate and collaborate remotely; providing resources to facilitate trial preparation, test and evaluate case management strategies and optimize research and workflow processes.
But equally important is business acumen – insights into customers’ needs, strategic planning and execution, thoughtful attention to effective operations, marketing, financial investment, performance management, and more. Only when a practice leader gathers, shares and exploits this knowledge will a firm develop successfully and deliver value. A few examples of entrepreneurship in the legal field include:
- “Do-It-Yourself” legal ventures – provide options to consumers and small businesses seeking cost-effective resources to manage basic legal tasks themselves, such as online access to standardized legal documents.
- Online legal research providers – market a broad range of online resources to facilitate comprehensive research and analysis of case law, statutes and other legal materials.
- Legal analytics companies – provide strategic data analysis to help legal organizations make informed decisions about settlement negotiations, case assessments and other legal matters.
- Lawyer search/referral systems – offer consumers and small businesses online research platforms to streamline the process of finding and hiring lawyers in particular practice areas; many of these organizations also provide unbundled legal services for a fixed fee.
Legal Ventures Align with Market Specialization
The need for specialized expertise within the law profession is on the rise, driven in large part by increasing financial, compliance and privacy regulations, emerging business complexities and the continuing pressure to deliver cost-effective services in a competitive marketplace. Legal start-ups are capitalizing on the demand for such specific talents and services by focusing on high-value market segments and niche practice areas.
- Artificial intelligence – Legal tech companies that apply AI tools to help corporate departments and law firms understand, summarize and analyze legal documents and information
Practice management software – Offers legal practice, case management, billing, invoice, tracking, and other services to small and mid-size law firms
- IP/trademark software and services – A variety of ventures that provide services, platforms and software to facilitate the creation and processing of patent applications and manage intellectual property
- Technology assisted review start-ups – Companies offer software platforms and services that expedite the search, organization, prioritization, and analysis of document collection in the eDiscovery process
- Litigation finance – A growing number of third-party funding companies for litigators
Legal entrepreneurship is gaining momentum. And if the growth we’ve witnessed of start-ups in the legal field during the past few years is any indicator, we can only assume it’s a trend that will continue to accelerate and dramatically alter the profession for the foreseeable future. Legal entrepreneurs will continue to address the needs of individual lawyers, law firms, corporate departments, and other legal stakeholders by identifying opportunities to enhance the practice of law in virtually every segment of the marketplace.
I look forward to seeing what visionaries in the legal field have in store for us next.
Charles A. Volkert is senior district president of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing and consulting solutions firm with locations in major North American and international markets. A former litigator, he holds a J.D. from University of Miami School of Law and a B.A. from Furman University.